Calm returned to Kisumu in western Kenya on Friday, a town where hundreds of Indian families briefly took shelter in temples and mosques amid raging violence. But 600 families have been temporarily airlifted to neighbouring Uganda.
Community elders said the statements by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress party, and incorrect Indian media reports had put them at risk — it would make them stand out and make them appear as adversaries. Indians have not been targeted by either side in the violence between rival political groups — also from different tribes — over disputed election results.
"All this is wrong, we have not been targeted – and this could put us in more danger," Chotu Pabari, 60, told the
from Kisumu. "It is very calm, very peaceful now. People are cleaning and opening their shops. The security is quite good. We don't know what can happen, but we are hoping for the best."
Around 15 Indian-owned shops in Kisumu were among those looted, Pabari said, and five were burned, possibly when police fired tear gas shells into buildings to quell rioting mobs. Hundreds of Indians left their homes and stayed for a couple of nights in a local Swaminarayan Temple, an Aga Khan Foundation-owned complex and a mosque.
With normalcy returning, most of them had now returned home.
But some had temporarily relocated to Uganda, funded by community donations. "More than 600 families have been airlifted to (the Ugandan capital of) Kampala," said Madhukant Shah, trustee of the United Business Association, a largely Indian-dominated conglomerate of 2,000-odd companies.
Violence erupted as soon as results of national elections were announced. Supporters of Raila Odinga, the defeated opposition leader, say the polls were rigged by President Mwai Kibaki. But since Kibaki belongs to Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, and Odinga is from the second-largest Luo tribe, the violence took on a deadly tribal colour.
Most Indian community leaders have been reluctant to take sides, and the Hindu Council of Kenya angered a lot of people by announcing that the elections were fair and that the losers should seek redress from the courts.
"Their view does not represent the views of the South Asian community in Kenya. We are solidly with the people of Kenya who demand a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict," said Zahid Rajan, editor of the Nairobi-based
The Indian community is among the most prosperous in Kenya and many of its members are now organising relief efforts for thousands of other displaced Kenyans, said Rajan.
The United Business Association also began fundraising efforts to help victims of the violence countrywide.
The violence in Kenya had become a political issue in India. Modi in Ahmedabad, and the Congress party in New Delhi, asked the government to take steps towards the safety of the Indian expatriates.
Rajan said the reports of Indians being targeted were "completely untrue … Hundreds of Kenyans have become victims of the violence and the Asians are among them."